New results of the Labour Force Survey in Belgium
Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, publishes today the results of the Labour Force Survey for 2021. After Belgium was able to limit the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the labour market in 2020 thanks to various support measures, such as the temporary unemployment scheme and the bridging right for the self-employed, there is a clear recovery in employment in 2021. The number of people employed increased by 51,000 persons between 2020 and 2021. If the former international definitions had still applied, this would even mean an increase of 91,000 persons. In this publication with the annual figures from the Labour Force Survey, we take a closer look at some key labour market indicators.
- The employment rate of people aged 20-64 amounts to 70.6% in 2021. This counterbalances the negative effect on the employment rate caused by the Covid-19 crisis. However, in order to achieve an employment rate of 80% in 2030, more than 600,000 additional persons need to be employed.
- Both the employment rate of women and of 55-64-year-olds reach record levels. In 2021, 66.8% of women aged 20-64 were employed. In 2000, this was 56%. For people aged 55 and over, the increase in the employment rate has been even stronger over the last two decades: in 2000, 26.3% of 55-64 year-olds were employed, in 2021 the figure is 54.5%.
- The ILO unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 amounts to 6.3%. This unemployment rate is higher in 2021 than in 2020 (5.6%). When the Covid-19 crisis broke out in March 2020, we initially still recorded a drop in the ILO unemployment rate due to a shift from ILO unemployment to inactivity. Only in the second half of 2020 did the ILO unemployment rate start to rise.
- The unemployment rate of women has been since 2012 below that of men. In 2020, the difference between the unemployment rate of men and women was 0.4 percentage points. In 2021 that difference has become 0.8 percentage points: the unemployment rate is 5.9% for women and 6.7% for men.
- 42% of the unemployed are long-term unemployed, which means that they have been out of work and looking for a job for at least a year. 22.3% of the unemployed have been unemployed for at least two years.
You will find more details here below
Labour market status of the population aged 15 and over
The number of employed people increased by 51,000, but the number of unemployed people also rises by 42,000
In 2021, an average of 4,854,000 people living in Belgium were employed. The number of people employed increased by 51,000 (+1.1%) between 2020 and 2021 (Table 1).
At the same time, the number of ILO unemployed people also increased, by 42,000 (+14.8%). These are the people who do not have a job, are actively seeking work and are available to start working within two weeks. In 2021, 324,000 people were ILO unemployed.
The number of inactive people aged 15 and over amounts to 4,324,000. This number decreased by 37,000 (-0.9%) between 2020 and 2021.
Table 1: Population aged 15 and over according to labour market status (2020-2021)
|2020||2021 (b)||Evolution 2020-2021|
(b) Break in the results in 2021 due to the revision of the questionnaire and the change in the ILO definitions of unemployment and employment.
Break in the series due to the adjustment of international definitions
Due to the revision of the questionnaire of the Labour Force Survey and the change in the ILO definitions of unemployment and employment following the new European framework regulation (see methodological note), the results of 2021 cannot simply be compared with those of 2020. The major change concerns the treatment of the people who have been temporarily unemployed for a period longer than three months. From 2021 on, these people are no longer counted among the employed, but among the unemployed or inactive, depending on the answers to the questions on job search and availability. In 2021, 40,000 persons on average were temporarily unemployed for longer than three months. Before, they would have been considered as employed, and now 5,000 of them are classified among the ILO unemployed and 35,000 among the inactive.
Increase of 91,000 employed people when the previous method of calculation is used
In order to have a clearer picture of the actual evolutions of the number of employed, unemployed and inactive people, irrespective of the break in the series due to the changed definition, we also calculate, in addition to the official figures, alternative figures. We include all persons in temporary unemployment longer than three months among the employed, as was the case in 2020. Chart 1 shows that the number of employed people would have increased by 91,000 units if the former definition was applied. The number of ILO unemployed people would have increased by 37,000 and the number of inactive people would have decreased by 72,000.
Chart 1: Evolution number of employed, unemployed and inactive people between 2020 and 2021, official definition versus alternative definition
Employment and unemployment rate
The employment rate of people aged 20-64 is 70.6%
In 2021, 70.6% of people aged 20-64 had a job. According to the alternative, more comparable definitions, the percentage would have amounted to 71.2%.
If we look at the employment rate over time, we can see that it has shown a slight upward trend over the past two decades. The percentage was 65.8% in 2000 and 67.6% in 2010 (Chart 2). The negative effect of the Covid-19 crisis on the employment rate in 2020 was counterbalanced in 2021.
Belgium has set itself the objective of an employment rate of 80% by 2030. In order to achieve that objective, more than 600,000 additional persons need to be employed.
Chart 2: Employment rate of people aged 20-64 by region (2000-2021)
Record levels among women and people aged 55 and over
The employment rate stands at 74.5% among men and 66.8% among women. For women, this is the highest percentage ever. In 2000, 56% of women aged 20-64 were employed.
Chart 3: Employment rate of people aged 20-64* - women (2000-2021)
The alternative employment rate is not shown here because the difference with the official employment rate is only minimal.
The employment rate of people aged 55 and over also reaches a record level in 2021. 54.5% of people aged 55-64 are employed. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of people aged 55 and over with a job has risen sharply. In 2000, 26.3% of 55-64-year-olds were employed, in 2010 this was 37.3%. Also in 2020, a year in which Belgium was hit by the Covid-19 crisis, we noted an increase in the percentage of people aged 55 and over with a job.
Chart 4: Employment rate of people aged 55-64 (2000-2021)
The alternative employment rate is not shown here because the difference with the official employment rate is only minimal.
Large differences in employment rate per region, level of education and nationality group
In Flanders, the employment rate of people aged 20-64 is 75.3%. This percentage is 65.2% in Wallonia and 62.2% in Brussels. Differences are also significant according to the level of education. Of all low-skilled people aged 20-64, 44.7% have a job. Of those with an upper secondary education diploma (medium-skilled people), 67.5% are employed, and the employment rate of highly-skilled people is 84.1%.
Of all people aged 20-64 with the Belgian nationality, 71.9% have a job. The employment rate of non-Belgian EU-27 citizens is even slightly higher (72.5%). Of the non-EU27 citizens, 43.3% are employed. The gap between the employment rate of Belgians and non-EU27 citizens is therefore 28.6 percentage points. Last year this gap was 31.3 percentage points.
Chart 5: Employment rate of people aged 20-64 by different characteristics - 2021
The unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 amounts to 6.3%
In 2021, the unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 was 6.3%. According to the alternative, more comparable definitions, the percentage of unemployed people in the working population would have amounted to 6.2%. The unemployment rate is higher in 2021 than in 2020 (5.6%). When the Covid-19 crisis broke out in March 2020, we initially still recorded a drop in the unemployment rate due to a shift from ILO unemployment to inactivity. Only in the second half of 2020 did the ILO unemployment rate start to rise.
The unemployment rate of women is lower than that of men
Looking at the unemployment rate on an annual basis, it is striking that women's unemployment rate has been below that of men since 2012 (Chart 6). In 2017, there was hardly any difference in the unemployment rate of men (7.2%) and women (7.1%) but since then the gap has widened again. In 2020, the difference between the unemployment rate of men and women was 0.4 percentage points. In 2021 that difference has become 0.8 percentage points: the unemployment rate of women is 5.9% while that of men is 6.7%.
Chart 6: Unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 by gender (2000-2021)
Large differences in unemployment rate per region, level of education and nationality group
The highest unemployment rate is observed among non-EU27 citizens (21%), young people (18.2%), low-skilled people (14.7%) and inhabitants of the Brussels-Capital Region (12.5%) (Chart 7). The lowest unemployment rate is recorded among highly-skilled people (3.6%), inhabitants of the Flemish Region (3.9%) and people aged 50-64 (4.3%).
Chart 7: Unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 by different characteristics - 2021
42% of the unemployed are long-term unemployed
Unemployed people can be classified according to the duration of unemployment. This is based on how long the unemployed person has been out of work and looking for work. For 58% of the unemployed, the duration of unemployment is less than one year, 19.7% have been unemployed for between one and two years and 22.3% have been unemployed for at least two years (Table 2). Persons who have been unemployed for one year or more are considered to be long-term unemployed. In 2021, this was 42% of all unemployed people.
The differences in unemployment duration between men and women are small. However, there are large differences according to the age group: 56.1% of unemployed people aged 55 and over have been unemployed for at least one year, 36.9% have been unemployed for two years or more. Among the unemployed 25-49-year-olds, 45% are long-term unemployed and among young people 20.8% are long-term unemployed.
Table 2: ILO unemployed people by unemployment duration*, gender and age group (2021)
|Total||Men||Women||15-24 years||25-49 years||50 years and +|
|Unemployed for less than 12 months||58.0%||58.1%||57.8%||79.2%||55.0%||43.9%|
|Unemployed for 12 to 23 months||19.7%||19.1%||20.6%||14.4%||21.9%||19.2%|
|Unemployed for 24 months or more||22.3%||22.9%||21.6%||6.4%||23.0%||36.9%|
* Not included: the ILO unemployed people who did not answer the question on unemployment duration
The reported figures are estimations based on a sample survey. They are based on an effective sample of more than 109,000 persons (respondents) between 15 and 89 years old in 2021. This represents about 54,000 respondents in Flanders, 40,000 in Wallonia and 15,000 in Brussels.
The survey is harmonised at European level. The definitions regarding employment and unemployment that are mentioned (see tab ‘documents’) are those of the International Labour Office (ILO) to allow international comparison.
The Labour Force Survey is a continuous survey, which means that the sample is evenly spread over the 52 (reference) weeks of the year. The selected respondents answer a questionnaire mainly related to their activity in the course of a given reference week. The data presented here reflect the averages for the year.
In 2017, there was a first break in the results following a considerable reform of the Labour Force Survey. More info is available in the following analysis: https://statbel.fgov.be/sites/default/files/Over_Statbel_FR/Analyse_eak…
Furthermore, in 2021, a new European framework regulation (EU Regulation 2019/1700) came into force. The questionnaire has been thoroughly revised, among others, to bring it into line with the adjusted operational definitions of employment and unemployment of the International Labour Office (ILO). Therefore, the labour market figures of 2021 cannot simply be compared with the figures before 2021. The main change: from 2021 on, those who have been temporarily unemployed for more than three months are counted among the unemployed or inactive, rather than among the employed, depending on the answers to the questions on job search and availability. In addition to this adaptation to the new definitions of employment and unemployment, the new framework regulation also sought to bring more uniformity in the way certain concepts are measured, which should ensure more comparable results at European level. To make a number of changes comprehensible, we publish both the official figure and an alternative, more comparable figure for the most important indicators.
In this note you will find more details about the changes introduced in 2021.
The employment rate of people aged 20-64 is the share of persons employed in the total population aged 20 to 64.
The unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 is the share of unemployed people in the labour force (employed + unemployed) aged 15 to 64.
Low-skilled people are people who have at most a lower secondary education diploma. Medium-skilled people are people who obtained a diploma of upper secondary education but not of higher education. Highly-skilled people obtained a diploma of higher education.